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You Lie!

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Robert Pondiscio of Core Knowledge points to a new study showing that, despite adults' best intentions, kids get lied to a lot. While parents specialize in fabricating false threats in order to influence behavior--the study's lead researcher himself admits to telling his son there's an eject button in his car--teachers tend go in for the "confidence-boosting lie." The study apparently doesn't examine the impact of all this fibbing on kids, but Pondiscio speculates about the effects of his own elementary school teachers' practice (prescribed by the Teacher's College Writer's Workshop) of arbitrarily complimenting all student work:

The intended effect obviously was to boost confidence and inspire additional effort. The danger (equally obvious) was that students might overestimate their ability, slack off, and be set up for disappointment later on.

It's a difficult balance, plainly. But then, it's worth noting that Pondiscio himself pretty clearly turned out to be a very good writer.

3 Comments

<<< Pondiscio himself pretty clearly turned out to be a very good writer.

A confidence-boosting lie! Thanks.

This is a very interesting topic that I have only seen discussed here in this forum but it is something that I have thought about for many years. I taught Theatre at a school in South America and my first production with my students who had unfortunately had a different Director for 3 years in a row was nothing short of a minor disaster. The students refused to learn their lines until the day the show went up and in some cases not really even then, leaving no time for character development and polishing of the show. They were under the impression that I was going to change the dates or postpone the show as their previous directors had done. I did not. I told them it was their butts out on stage and what did they want them to look like? On opening night they went up in lines and we almost had to stop the show. What could have been a beautiful drama was snickering behind the hands comedy and an embarrassment to their talents and opportunities. I just sat in the theatre as each of them checked out after hanging up costumes and washing away their make up. I said nothing but they could sense my disappointment. The next day I was met by a flood of teachers who vehemently insisted that I tell these kids that they had done a "good job" and how proud I was of them. The students were upset because I was disappointed in them. I refused and was vilified by my some of my colleagues over it. The second night went considerably better but still nowhere near what they were capable of accomplishing because even in theatre "magic" rarely happens overnight. It usually only comes through hard work and dedication. These students learned from this and we never had a production like that again. In fact we had some of my most memorable productions ever after that.
It is my belief that students have an intuition that goes beyond even many adults. They can smell BS a mile away! They sense fear and they know a weak teacher and just exactly how much they can get away with in the classroom. When you lie to them, you are losing their respect and trust. I am very demanding of my students and I expect more out of them than they think they are capable of because 1) I know they can do it and 2) I love them. Students will rise to your expectations. While you may not be their buddy when you are telling them all this or putting them through the paces, you will earn their respect. To this day I tell my cast members that I only ask on thing out of them and they can all tell you what it is; 100% effort 100% of the time! They have every right to expect the same from me and if they feel that I am not giving it they have an obligation to call me out just as I will do to them.
I believe that many student’s lives have been changed because of this philosophy. Students will face challenges in life that are much more difficult than a high school play. However, because of their experience they will know that they can dig down deep inside themselves and become much more than they ever thought that they could.
20 years this year!
Mark Webber
Khartoum International Community School
Sudan, Africa

You're absolutely right, as far as I'm concerned! I danced and choreographed professionally for the first 18 years of the 27 years I've been teaching dance/mentoring students, and it's been my personal experience that a life in the arts requires that very attitude.

Self-esteem comes from the self!
No one else can give it to you-it comes from making mistakes, and
then doing the necessary hard work to correct them! I don't see teachers
falsely praising students who fail to study their multiplication tables. Why should students who are studying the arts be treated differently? It's an insult to their intelligence!

False praise may keep some students working for awhile-but if they are allowed to blindly continue making the same mistakes over and
over, how can they hope to acquire
the necessary skills to progress,
much less achieve true success in
any field of study? Bad habits, once ingrained, are notoriously hard to change.

It's time for our intelligent, well-meaning colleagues to understand
that the artistic process is Work! Just as much is rightfully expected
from us and our students as in other fields. In their fields there are hierarchies of learning-and it's the same for us. Research has proven it takes an average of 10 years of hard work to be successful in any field-(something that dancers have known for at least 200 years!)! Those whose knowledge and skills are inadequate and limited because of poor training or bad habits seldom find themselves successful in any field, but one challenge we face as teachers of the arts is finding a "nice" way to point
that out to our well-meaning colleagues. My elementary dancers don't think their little mistakes are "cute"-if they have a problem onstage they always come back to the studio asking if I saw their mistakes.

I wanted to downplay some of their boo-boos at first, (after all some of my dancers are only in 1st and 2nd grade), but they were insulted-they wanted to know what I was going to do about the problem! They let me know in no uncertain terms that they not only expected me to notice, they
expected me to care enough to discuss their problems truthfully, and help them "fix things"- because if I don't do that the children told me "that will mean you don't think we can do any better. And if You don't think we can do any better, we might as well give up, because we hate it when our moms and dads say how 'cute' our mistakes are-we don't want to be cute-we want to be good!"
(Out of the mouths of babes-in 2nd grade!)


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